Guidelines for Thesis-Based MA, MSc, PhD

Department of Geography Graduate Program

Academic standards

The policy for academic standards within the program, adheres to the guidelines of the Faculty of Graduate Studies.

Normally, students admitted to a thesis-based graduate program in the Department of Geography will be registered as full-time students and are expected to make an appropriate commitment (e.g., 40 hours per week) to program-related activities. Students who cannot fulfill a full-time commitment should consult with the Graduate Program Director about whether a change to part-time studies might be available to them, or if a leave of absence may be required.


The Graduate Calendar lists course requirements for each thesis-based graduate degree program in Geography. Course selection is determined via consultation between students and their supervisor. Registration is completed through the online Student Centre, accessible at To maintain graduate student status, all students must register annually, regardless of whether they are taking courses or not. If you have any questions or concerns, please contact the Graduate Program Administrator at 


Supervisor and supervisory committees

Typically, every graduate student admitted to the Department of Geography will have a supervisor identified at time of admission. Within the first four months of their graduate program, students are required to complete an Appointment of Supervisor form and a Student-Supervisor Checklist (both available from the Graduate Program Administrator). Copies will be retained on the student’s file.

Students also have the option to have a co-supervisor appointed, which should be done in consultation with the Supervisor.

Should a change in supervision occur, including the appointment of a co-supervisor, a Change of Supervision form must be completed by the Student and approved by Supervisor, Graduate Program Director, and the Dean of Graduate Studies.

PhD students are required to have a Supervisor Committee appointed by the Department, in addition to their Supervisor(s). Supervisory committees should consist of the Supervisor (and Co-Supervisor, if appointed), plus at least two additional faculty members.

Please refer to the Graduate Calendar for Academic Regulations regarding supervisors and supervisory committees. Further guidance is available on the Faculty of Graduate Studies website.

Graduate thesis proposals

All thesis-based graduate students in Geography are required to prepare an approved thesis research proposal as part of their program requirements. Normally, the thesis proposal will be defended by the Student prior to undertaking any substantive components of their thesis research.

Thesis proposals are detailed documents that outline the research that will be undertaken for the MA, MSc or PhD degree. The proposal must contain a statement of objectives, methods, and anticipated results, and must include a timetable and a budget section. The proposal represents a serious effort by all concerned to provide an initial 'road-map' for the research component of the graduate degree. Copies of previous thesis proposals are on file in the Department of Geography Collections Room.

MA and MSc students are required to prepare and defend their proposal before the end of the 12th month in the program. If the student does not have a Supervisory Committee appointed by the department, the Department will appoint a Thesis Proposal Examination Committee comprised of the Supervisor(s) plus two additional faculty members that are knowledgeable about the research area, one of which must be from the Department of Geography.

PhD students normally defend their proposal by the end of the 20th month in program. The thesis proposal and proposal defence constitute part of the Doctoral Candidacy Requirements. Further details about PhD Thesis Proposals and Defences can be found on the Geography Doctoral Candidacy Requirements page.

The oral defence of all thesis proposals is chaired by the Supervisor, who organizes rounds of questions from the examiners. A brief (15 minute) presentation by the student typically precedes the questioning, which must not exceed two hours duration. Proposal defences in Geography are not considered to be a formal examination, and typically the questioning allows for plenty of informal discussion regarding the research plan. The over-arching goal of the proposal defence is for the Student to receive valuable advice from their Committee to best prepare them to undertake their thesis research.

At the end of the thesis-proposal defence, the Committee will make a judgement on the proposal. If the proposal is rejected, students will be permitted one re-take. A student who fails the thesis-proposal defence twice may be required to withdraw from the program.

Once approved, students are required to submit an electronic copy of their thesis proposal to the Department of Geography within two weeks.

Annual Department of Geography Graduate Research Conference

In March of each year, all second-year MA and MSc and third or fourth year PhD students must participate in the Annual Department Conference, normally through the delivery of an oral or poster presentation. Participation in the Department Conference is a departmental program requirement, identified in the graduate calendar.

A committee of graduate students organizes the Conference. An announcement and call for abstracts is normally issued in February. All abstracts are compiled in the Annual Conference Proceedings and are distributed at the Conference.

Thesis oral examinations

The Graduate Calendar lists requirements and regulations regarding thesis examinations, and students and supervisors are expected to be familiar with this information. Further details, including examination policies, can be found on the Faculty of Graduate Studies website.

In consultation with the student, supervisors will schedule the thesis oral examination through the Graduate Program Administrator no later than thirty days prior to the expected date of the examination. Normally, a draft of the thesis must have been prepared prior to the scheduling of the examination, and the supervisory committee (or if one has not been appointed, the supervisor) must agree that the research is complete and that a defendable draft of the thesis can be provided to the examination committee within three weeks of the examination date.

Program milestones

MA, MSc students

  • Approval of a thesis proposal within the first twelve months in the program

  • Research presentation at the Annual Department Conference in Year 2 of the program

  • Completion of course work (see Graduate Calendar for details) within a two-year period

  • Four semesters of Geography 601 (Graduate Research Seminar)

  • Thesis Oral Examination, which normally takes place before the end of Year 2 of the program

PhD students

  • Approval of a thesis proposal before the end of the 20th month in program (or 4 months prior to Field of Study examination)

  • Completion of course work (see Graduate Calendar for details) within the first two years of the program

  • Four semesters of Geography 601 (Graduate Research Seminar)

  • Completion of the Field of Study Examination within the first 24 months of the program

  • Research presentation at the Annual Department Conference in Year 3 or 4 of the program

  • Thesis Oral Examination, which normally takes place before the end of Year 4 of the program

Annual progress reports

The Faculty of Graduate Studies requires that all students prepare an Annual Progress Report, which must be approved by the Supervisor and Graduate Program Director. The Annual Progress Report is assigned electronically (by email) to students in May and is due in September each year (the form is completed online through the Student Centre).

The Report details the accomplishments of the student in the past academic year and provides a record of milestones achieved. Failure to provide an approved Annual Progress Report indicates lack of satisfactory academic progress and may have implications for scholarship or TA funding.

Student appeal policies and procedures

Students are entitled to appeal any decision surrounding a program requirement, including grades from coursework or the outcome of program examinations (e.g., Field of Study Examination or Thesis Oral Examination). In all cases of appeal, the Student must first consult the Graduate Calendar, as well as their Supervisor and/or Supervisory Committee, for advice.

Unless otherwise directed by the Graduate Calendar (e.g., Thesis Examinations, which a Faculty of Graduate Studies ruling, not a Departmental ruling), appeals should be made to the Graduate Program Director and/or Head of the Department.

All requests for appeal must be received in writing no later than two weeks following notification of the contested decision, and the request must include compelling, clearly articulated reasons why an appeal is being requested.

Other information

Office space

The student's supervisor is responsible for providing office space to thesis-based graduate students who require it for the program-related activities. Normally, thesis-based students are provided office space within their supervisor’s research space. 

Keys / lab access

Access is provided to office/lab space as required.

Long distance calls

The department absorbs the cost of monthly rental on the office telephones. All long-distance calls are considered as personal charges. For information regarding long distance access, please contact the Department Manager.

Postal services

Graduate students have a shared space for incoming mail in the Geography Main Office. Incoming mail can be addressed to you, c/o Department of Geography, University of Calgary, 2500 University Drive NW, Calgary, Alberta T2N 1N4. All incoming mail should be related to program activities.

Graduate program contacts

Questions about our programs?

Advising questions

Contact the Graduate Program Advisors

Requirements: thesis-based

Contact the Graduate Program Director

Dr. Eliot Tretter


Requirements: course-based

Contact the Graduate Program Director

Dr. Yvonne Martin